Life much more difficult when mining came, say Surigao Norte fisherfolks

CLAVER, Surigao del Norte (MindaNews / 6 Aug) – Life is getting harder and harder for fisherfolks in various villages of this town where mining companies operate.

Arcasio D. Genancias, 54, a fisherman in Barangay Cagdianao, said that since the Platinum Group Metals Corporation (PGMC) started operations, water sources have been polluted and the local folks lost their marine resources due to massive siltation.

“Our lives are now much more difficult compared to previous years, when we could catch fish just near the villages,” he said in the vernacular.

Genancias said that aside from the massive siltation, big ships throw out liquid wastes out into the water, which smell so bad.

“Sometimes they throw away used oil, sometimes wastes with really foul odor. The corals have been destroyed too with their huge anchors,” he added.

Genancias has seven children, two of whom are now supposed to be in college. “But I can’t afford to support them both, so only one is now in college,” he lamented.

Genancias recalled that in the 1990s up to early of the next decade, their fish catch could go as high as 30 to 50 kilograms everyday. Today, they’re lucky to get 8 kilos.

He said that the fish seemed to slowly disappear starting around 2007 with the operations of PGMC.

Genancias pointed out that without the mining operations, they said they could have afforded to send their children to school, as many of the local residents finished college before mining operations commenced.

PGMC is mining nickel ore in Cagdianao which are reportedly being shipped out to China.

Genancias recalled that in 2007, a lot of sea cucumbers and octopuses died. Locals suspected mining operations had something to do with it.

Claver is a coastal town and majority of its residents rely on fishing for their livelihood.

Barangay councilman Asterio Urbiztondo said fisherfolks in their area need big boats for them to go deep-sea fishing.

“I think what they need now is a big fishing boat because if they still do what they used to do now, they couldn’t make both ends meet,” he said.

Urbiztondo said that fisherfolks are among the poorest sectors of Philippine society and they need help, especially now that their resources had been greatly affected by the mining operations.

Nerio G. Casil, regional director of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR)-13, has acknowledged that the marine resources in Claver have been greatly affected by mining activities.

He said siltation is a big problem in the town’s marine ecosystem.

Casil urged the fishermen to go deep-sea fishing, too, since they already installed an aggregating device known as “payaw”. He added that BFAR can help the fisherfolks in this aspect.

Claver Mayor Eddie Gokiangkee said, too, that siltation is a huge problem in the town. He added that the mining companies don’t really practice “responsible mining,” contrary to their claims.

He said mining companies should pay for what they have done to the environment.

In the course of interviewing fisherfolks, other residents of Cagdianao and government officials over the past weeks, MindaNews tried to set appointment with PGMC’s community relations officer, Wilfredo Labe. Labe set appointments twice, but did not show up on both occasions.

But he claimed in a text message that his company has an in-house desilting system and that they even have two contractors doing desiltation for PGMC.

But a visit to the area shows that siltation has spread to the sea, even the corals. When one steps barefoot on the beach, one’s feet will turn orange that takes days to disappear.

Another Cagdianao fisherman, Elpedio Enaya, 61, said that because of the mining operations, he too could now hardly catch fish.

He lamented that he is also not allowed to fish in nearby Bucas Grande Island, a 30-minute boat ride across the channel, because he is not a resident there.

Enaya is the vice president of the Cagdianao Fishermen Organization, which now has 80 members.

It’s not only the fish and other marine resources that have dwindled in Cagdianao, but even the fishermen themselves.

Enaya said that with the destruction of the coastal areas, the fisher folks have been displaced, too. The same trend is true in the neighboring villages of Hayanggabon, Taganito and Urbiztondo, which have mining operations, too, according to Enaya.

Cagdianao resident Jun Acelo said that his village used to supply crabs to Surigao City, but not anymore.